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How going back to junior helped Mathew Barzal become a dominant player

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Every hockey player wants to get to the NHL as fast as possible, but sometimes spending an extra year in junior or in the minors can make a huge difference.

Mathew Barzal played two games with the New York Islanders at the beginning of last season before being sent back to the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds. There’s no doubt that Barzal would’ve wanted to spend the year in the NHL like fellow rookie Anthony Beauvillier did, but it didn’t end up happening.

Barzal went back to Seattle with the right attitude. He ended up working on his game and having a huge year for the Thunderbirds, his country and himself. He finished his junior campaign with 10 goals and 79 points in only 41 games. Barzal was an influential part of his team’s first ever WHL Championship, as he accumulated seven goals and 25 points in 16 playoff games. He also added two assists in three games at the 2017 Memorial Cup (Seattle went 0-3 in the tournament).

The Isles forward also served as an assistant captain for Team Canada at last year’s World Junior Hockey Championship. It was his second straight season on Canada’s roster. In his first year, he had three points in five games. Last year, he had an impressive eight points in seven tournament games. Unfortunately for Canada, they lost in the gold medal game to Team USA.

“I think (going back to junior) helped,” Barzal told PHT earlier this week. “I think it just let me play my game. I got to play lots of minutes, make a deep playoff run and win a championship. I had a good coach there in Seattle (Steve Konowalchuk) that kept me honest as a 19-year-old. I went to the World Juniors, I got a lot of good experience playing in big games. I think it was just a good development year.”

Through 46 games this season, the rookie has already amassed 16 goals and an impressive 47 points. We’ll never know if he would’ve been able to accomplish that had he not gone back to the WHL last season, but it certainly didn’t hinder his development.

“(Barzal’s) game has skyrocketed since late in October last year when he went back to junior,” head coach Doug Weight said. “He worked on the things he needed to work on. It’s refreshing to see when you have that tough meeting and you challenge him in those things and the things you’re supposed to say as a coach and a friend. He went back and he worked on it and it showed in his game in Seattle.

“He’s had a lot thrown at him and he’s just been terrific.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Isles have Beauvillier, who was developed in a different way. Barzal (15th overall) and Beauvillier (28th overall) were both selected in the first round of the 2015 Draft. Instead of going back to junior, Beauvillier stuck around in the NHL. He finished last season with a modest nine goals and 24 points in 66 games. This year, he seems to have hit a wall while Barzal has been flat-out dominant.

During the Islanders’ bye week earlier this month, they assigned Beauvillier to the minors where he played three games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (he scored two goals). The 20-year-old has eight goals and four assists in 35 games this season.

Unlike Barzal, Beauvillier just seems to be holding on for dear life in the NHL right now. That doesn’t mean he won’t develop into a solid player, but going back to junior and dominating for a year might have been better for his development (yes, hindsight is 20/20).

Most of the talk around the Islanders organization has been about John Tavares potentially becoming an unrestricted free agent in July. Losing their captain would be devastating, but the fact that they’ve helped develop Barzal into a dominant player would lessen the blow if Tavares decides to leave.

Of course if he sticks around, the Islanders would have a formidable one-two punch down the middle for years to come.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

‘Going back to junior is not an option’: Sergachev feels ready to stick with Bolts

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Mikhail Sergachev got his first taste of NHL action last season, when he played four games with the team that drafted him, the Montreal Canadiens.

But this 0ff-season brought about some major changes for the 19-year-old blue liner, as Montreal traded him to Tampa Bay for forward Jonathan Drouin.

After spending the month of October with the Canadiens last season, the team felt he needed to improve his game in junior, so they sent him back to the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, where he had 10 goals and 43 points in 50 regular season games. The Spitfires also hosted and won the Memorial Cup in 2017.

As magical as that championship run was for Sergachev and his teammates, the young defenseman is ready to take the next step in his career.

The ninth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft will face some competition in training camp. But with the players the Lightning currently have signed on the blue line, Sergachev should have a decent crack at making the final roster.

Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Brayden Coburn, Dan Girardi and Andrej Sustr are all locks to be on the team, but a strong camp could put Sergachev ahead of Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek (some would argue that Sergachev is already better than some of the guys that are “locks”).

Coyotes send Dylan Strome back to juniors

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Even though they currently find themselves at the bottom of the NHL standings, the Arizona Coyotes still have a bright future with an impressive collection of young talent.

One of the players most responsible for that optimism is Dylan Strome, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft.

It appears they are going to have to wait a little longer to see if he can completely reaches his potential in the NHL.

The Coyotes announced on Sunday that they have sent Strome back to Erie of the Ontario Hockey League. Strome has appeared in seven games for the Coyotes this season and recorded one assist.

“Dylan has made exceptional progress and continues to make strides to being an elite center in this league,” said general manager John Chayka in a statement released by the team. “At this point in time we felt it was best for his development to get him back playing in junior, but his future in the NHL is very bright.”

He spent the past three years in Erie before making his NHL debut and was one of the most dominant players in junior hockey over the past two. Since the start of the 2014-15 season Strome had 82 goals and 158 assists in only 124 games for Erie.

The dilemma for the Coyotes is deciding what is going to be best for both Strome and the organization.

On one hand, Strome clearly has nothing left to prove at the junior level and there really isn’t much for him to learn by going back to a league that he is probably going to dominate once again.

But if he is not quite ready to be an impact player in the NHL — and that seems to be the case based on what we have seen so far — it also isn’t going to do him much good to be used as sparingly as he has been this season in a league he might be quite ready for.

Obviously, the Coyotes decided the former option is in his best interest.

The ideal spot for Strome would be the American Hockey League, but because of the CHL transfer agreement he is not yet eligible to play at that level. But that is another discussion for another day.

 

Senators send Thomas Chabot back to junior

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The Ottawa Senators have sent Thomas Chabot back to the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs.

The move is hardly surprising considering he only suited up in one of nine games this season. In that one game, he finished with a minus-2 rating and one shot on goal in just 7:09 of ice time.

The 19-year-old was the 18th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

His junior numbers have improved every year since he began playing in the Quebec League three seasons ago.

Last year, he had 11 goals, 45 points, a plus-27 rating and 79 penalty minutes in 47 games.

Chabot showed that he has the ability to be a puck-moving defenseman, but he’s still raw and needs to work on his overall game.

This will be his final year in the junior ranks. He’ll likely start next season in the NHL or AHL.

He’s the second defenseman to be sent back to junior this week, as the Canadiens assigned first-round pick Mikhail Sergachev to OHL Windsor on Monday.

‘It’s going to be great for him’ — Habs send Sergachev back to junior

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On Monday, the Habs announced that Mikhail Sergachev — the 18-year-old blueliner taken ninth overall at the draft — has been re-assigned to OHL Windsor after spending all of October in Montreal, appearing in three games.

It’s a move that, apparently, was always in the cards.

“The plan was to keep him a month and evaluate after that,” Habs GM Marc Bergevin said, per the club’s Twitter account. “He needs to go play. It’s going to be great for him.”

Sergachev impressed team brass during training camp and the exhibition campaign, earning an opening-night roster spot over Mark Barberio.

But, as Bergevin noted today, the club is playing well and has solid depth across the lineup, making it tough for the rookie to secure minutes.

The Habs also saw some potentially troublesome developments — specifically, Sergachev tailoring his style of play to survive and stick with the NHL club.

Sergachev has loads of skill and is a gifted offensive d-man, so it should be fun to see him follow up on his ’15-16 campaign in Windsor, when he scored 17 goals and 57 points in 67 games.

The Spitfires should be a contender for the Memorial Cup, which is another reason Montreal was keen to send Sergachev down. Windsor is currently being led by a fellow first-rounder from this year’s draft — Logan Brown, taken 11th overall by Ottawa.